I was scheduled for jury duty this week. Since I hate to cancel things (I find it almost physically painful), I didn’t schedule anything for my summons date and several days after. But the night before, I called the court house and learned I had been excused. This left me with several days of found time. The first thought I had was that I should “spend more time with my family” — before being reminded that when you normally hear this phrase, it’s being used as the world’s biggest euphemism.
An executive is bored by his job? He’s quitting to “spend more time with my family.”
A presidential aide is pushed out in a palace coup? He’s leaving to “spend more time with my family.”
A non-profit leader is unable to deal with his co-workers anymore? He’s leaving to “spend more time with my family.”
I dislike this phrase for several reasons. For starters, even in very demanding jobs, it’s often possible to spend a lot of time with one’s family. The people who use this phrase tend to be near the top of organizations, which grants them reasonable control of their time. If you want to come in late because you’re bringing your kid to school once or twice a week, you’re probably not going to get fired. If you can schedule lunches with donors, you can schedule lunch with your spouse. If you are powerful enough, you can often get people to come to you — meaning travel can be managed as well. Presenting “demanding job” and “time with family” as opposing forces contributes to the false choice duality so prevalent in the popular narrative.
And second, I dislike that it’s often used as a euphemism. There is nothing wrong with leaving a very good job to be, say, your children’s primary caretaker. But that’s usually not what’s happening in these cases. Something’s not working with the job, and family is used as a nice excuse. It sounds better than “I’d really like to golf more” or “I can’t stand my co-workers.” And since often the person in question intends to find another job, “spending time with my family” comes across as a fallback — there until something better comes along.
Personally, I’d like to see people use the truth. Sometimes it really is the case that people are making a huge lifestyle change in the pursuit of better balance. But if you’re looking for different opportunities, say so. If organizational direction is shifting, say that too. We live in a transparent age. In high enough profile cases, the truth is usually apparent anyway.
(As for what I did during what would have been jury duty: I did multiple puzzles with my 6-year-old, took my 3-year-old to his first day of preschool, went for a swim with the kids, and got caught up on a ton of life maintenance stuff like getting my car’s oil changed).
Photo courtesy flickr user ollesvensson